As thousands of athletes prepare to compete on the global stage at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Olympic gold medallist and double world champion diver Tom Daley wants to shine a light on an issue that he cares passionately about.
Some of the competitors live in fear of horrific brutality inside the countries they represent. With punishments including whipping, life imprisonment and even death, it is illegal to be gay in over half of the 56 member states of the Commonwealth.
An important new 1x60’ film for BBC One and iPlayer, Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me, follows Tom on his journey to some of the Commonwealth’s most homophobic countries to ask what the sporting world can do to help.
The film culminates with Tom taking a very public stand at this year’s opening ceremony, in a powerful statement against homophobia.
Travelling from Pakistan, where homosexuality carries a maximum penalty of death by stoning, to Jamaica, where the punishment is 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labour, Tom talks to top male and female sportspeople facing persecution.
With many speaking under the protection of total anonymity, they bravely reveal the extreme danger and vigilante violence that gay and lesbian athletes face if their sexuality is exposed, telling harrowing personal stories of their own.
As Tom builds a painful picture of life for the LGBT+ community across the Commonwealth, he speaks to advocates fighting for change, including the only openly gay athlete on Jamaica’s national team, Michael Gunning, India’s first openly gay athlete, Dutee Chand, and swimmers Theresa Goh and Amini Fonua, both vocal supporters of LGBT+ rights in Singapore and Tonga.
Tom also meets LGBT+ experts, Bisi Alimi from Nigeria and Carla Moore from Jamaica, who reveal the colonial legacy that first criminalised homosexuality and the toxic influence of slavery on attitudes towards LGBT+ people.
Drawing on his own experiences competing in countries where it’s illegal for him to exist and the experiences of those he meets on his journey, Tom asks what the Commonwealth Games Federation could do to make athletes feel safe to compete and help push for wider change.
Returning to the UK, Tom submits a manifesto of action points to the Commonwealth Games Federation, written with contributions from LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth, in an effort to create meaningful, long-lasting change that ensures major sporting competitions are open to, and safe for, everyone.
Tom Daley says: “I’ve experienced homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it’s illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the venue I’m competing in. If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth...
"So along with some of these inspirational people, we’re working on a campaign that we wanted to be more than just something you see in a documentary that you watch for an hour and then move on. We wanted it to be something that actually makes a difference...
LGBT+ athletes must be safe and feel comfortable being their authentic selves without fear of persecution or death. The CGF has been willing to talk and willing to hear what we have to say, and it’s good to see they’ve started taking a stance towards more inclusion...
"Along with incredible LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth, we will make a difference. The Commonwealth Games Federation can be a shining example to other sporting organisations that sports really can be for everyone and with the pull power sports has, we can hopefully influence change to horrendous human rights laws that exist in so many countries around the world.”
Michael Jochnowitz, BBC Commissioning Editor, says: “It’s horrifying that whilst athletes proudly represent their country on the global stage they face persecution – or worse – back home, simply for being gay...
"Some of these fearless athletes tell us their stories thanks to Tom and his courageous efforts to tackle the issue head-on, and whose manifesto for change leads to an extraordinary and historic world first.”
Emma Hindley, Executive Producer, Brook Lapping, says: “The bravery of the athletes and advocates in Pakistan, Jamaica and Nigeria who took part in the film cannot be underestimated. I hope that Tom’s documentary, which was made by a predominantly gay team, will be a positive and active driver for change.”
Tom Daley: Illegal To Be Me, a 1x60’ for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, will air on Tuesday 9 August at 9pm.